By Doyice Cotten
An Oregon appellate court (Howard v. Chimps, Inc., 2012 Ore. App. LEXIS 986) ruled that a waiver of liability signed by a student doing a college internship adequately protected the chimpanzee sanctuary from liability when the intern was attacked by a chimpanzee. In general, waivers signed by employees are deemed to be against public policy and are not enforceable because of the economic hold that the employer has over the employee.
The waiver appeared in the internship manual and was signed by the intern. Another significant factor was a disclaimer appearing on the bottom of each page of the intern manual which stated: “I know that the [defendant’s] company policies and other related documents do not form a contract of employment ….”
The intern claimed she was told she would never have contact with the animals. She made several allegations including negligence in failing to secure doors, thereby, allowing the chimp to gain entrance to the cage while she was inside doing chores.
The court held that the waiver constituted a valid contract and ruled in favor of the defendant. The employer/employee issue was not significant, in part, due to the disclaimer stating that the plaintiff was not an employee. From a risk management perspective, all businesses requiring waivers of interns might consider the inclusion of such a statement.